Have you ever woken up in the morning and suddenly have cravings for some food? It’s been some time since I visited Bangkok and since my friends mentioned (yes, here is the keyword: chicken rice) the other night while we were out for dinner, I kept thinking about the yummy chicken rice in Sukhumvit Soi 38 and what a tragedy it was now that street food stalls are banned in Bangkok due to hygiene and traffic issues (I have talked about its back to my post about Ayutthaya! A Memoir of Ayutthaya).
A weekend getaway in Chiang Mai
As much as the delicious food brought me back memories of Thailand, I am writing not only about food in Chiang Mai (although they will be heavily featured), but also about new hip places, night markets, and must-see attractions – combined with a spa visit in the old city, Chiang Mai is a perfect weekend getaway to just enjoy a few days to detox, unwind and recharge.
Chiang Mai showcases a more relaxed side of Thailand. Situated in mountainous northern Thailand, Chang Mai is the largest city and the transportation hub in the region, yet it’s compact, and also famous for its beautiful ancient temples. The city also features tasty food, great spas, and night markets… If you are a fan of nature, take a trip to the mountains around the city, including Doi Inthanon, one of the most popular national parks in the country. If you like temples, head to Chiang Rai and visit Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple, one of the most frequently featured temples in Thailand.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
So, the first night we arrived in Chiang Mai we settled down at a new boutique hotel at the edge of Chiang Mai’s old town called the Hotel I Lanna House, which opened in December 2016 (that I was told). For around US$50 a night I was pleasantly surprised as the room was gorgeous with a balcony overlooking… just outside of the hotel. Trust me though, a room with a balcony like that is just what I needed, and then headed out immediately to a local dining place for some delicious pork soup and fish ball soup. The next morning, we had a nice and simple breakfast sitting outdoor by the side of the hotel’s tiny pool and got ready to explore the city! It’s always nice to start a travel day with a lovely breakfast like this:
I Lanna House: htts://www.facebook.com/ilannahouse/
Starting from MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center, ending at the University, Nimmanahaeminda Road is the street in the town where all the nice restaurants and cafes reside. The other night I was picked up by a local friend (who is in the filmmaking industry), and he took me on his motorcycle and grabbed a local Thai beer on the side of the road:
But apart from that, there are quite a lot of cafes and shops that a tourist would find interesting to explore. Playworks is one of my favorite stores with a lot of original bags and stationeries designs, Fruiturday offers choices of fruit juice and Wawee Coffee is a nice coffee place for the locals.
The Barisotel by the Baristro
The Barisotel by the Baristro is one of a new addition to the area. The all-white interior adds a simplistic and modern vibe against natural sunlight! Being an Instagrammer himself, the owner of the café, Than, understands the importance of offering customers a lot of “Instagrammable” moments as they are enjoying a lazy afternoon with a glass of colorful drink and a piece of novelty cake. True, not only the props and tableware are tastefully chosen but also the food and drinks are creatively designed to feast both eyes and taste buds!
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
This is the most visited temple in Chiang Mai. It is a Theravada Buddhist temple, often referred to as “Doi Suthep” – while in fact, Doi Suthep is the name of the mountain where the mountain is located. It is easy to pick up a tuk-tuk to go up the mountain to the entrance of the temple.
According to the legend, a monk named Sumanathera once had a dream, during the Sukhothai Kingdom, and in the dream, he was told to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic. He went there, and a bone was found, and it was believed to be Gautama Buddha’s shoulder bone. The relic showed magic powers: it glowed, it was able to vanish, and it could move and replicate itself. The monk took the relic to the King at that time, yet he didn’t believe its authenticity and returned it to the monk. It was later the monk brought it to Lamphun in northern Thailand, and the relic broke into two pieces. The smaller piece was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok, and the other piece was placed by the king on the back of a white elephant that was released into the jungle. The white elephant, climb up Doi Suthep, stopped, trumpeted three times, and then it died! This occasion was interpreted as an omen, and King Nu Naone of Lan Na immediately ordered the construction of a temple at the site.
There are two ways to ascend to the temple at the entrance, the wat can be reached by road from Chiang Mai. From the car park at the temple’s base, visitors can climb 309 steps to reach the pagodas or take a tram. It’s also possible to hike up to the temple from the city following the Monk’s Trail.
Once inside the temple grounds, visitors must be appropriately dressed and must remove footwear. Within the site are pagodas, statues, bells, a museum, and shrines. Another place that you don’t want to miss is stepping to the terrace at the far side of the temple, where you can enjoy an open view of the city of Chiang Mai.
Must-see temples in Chiang Mai
Doi Suthep is the number one temple to see in Chiang Mai. There are so many more in the city – and don’t forget, the old city within the walls is already filled with temples that you may want to explore while you are there. Most temples in Chiang Mai are of the “Lanna Style”, an architectural style that was popular between the 13th and 18th centuries, featuring curved wooden roofs and pointed up to the top.
Wat Chedi Luang is another must-see, and much more easily accessible, located inside the Old City walls and within walking distance from many of the top hotels.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: Check out the white elephant statue, and the 600-year-old ‘chedi’ at the top above the surrounding temple buildings and monk’s living quarters.
Wat Chedi Luang: “Luang” means “very big” in the old Lanna language. the main chedi here is 80 meters high, the complex takes all the way back to 1385.
Wat Phra Singh: It is one of the most visually impressive temples in the city. The main temple is an iconic Lanna-style architecture. It’s very close to the old city and you won’t miss it once you passed there.
Wat Suan Dok: The temple features shining white chedis around a glowing golden stupa.
Wat Umong: The temple has over 700 years of history and it is still standing, surrounded by green lawns, and a fishing pond.
Wat Phra That Doi Kham: The temple is located on mountain Kham, and it’s a lesser-known temple because it’s a bit farther from the old city. However, the giant seated Buddha is very impressive.
Wat Sri Suphan: Wat Sri Suphan, or the Silver Temple, is very close to the Wua Lai Walking Street. Built during the Mangrai Dynasty in the 16th century, it is a Lanna-style architecture that is intricately ornated and completely covered in silver. The temple is not big, yet the decorations are impressive. The carvings and sculptures of the temple are all hand-made and are a display of the life and legends of Buddha.
Why is it covered in silver? It was because the temple was originally built as the main temple in a silversmith village. Today, you may still find many silver studios in the neighborhood with artists creating beautiful silverworks that make them a good souvenir or gift.
Wat Chiang Man: The temple once served as a residence of the city’s founder, King Mengrai.
Wat Lok Molee: The temple is known for its three-tiered wooden roof, another showcase of Lanna-style architecture. The temple dated back to around the 14th century, which could be seen from the weathered chedi at the back of the temple.
Wat Phan Tao: Another famous temple in the old city. Despite its size, it’s still well worth a look for its ornate decorations and detailed statues dotted around the garden.
Meena Rice-Based Cuisine
It is exciting to know that there is a place with such a colorful presentation of rice in Chiang Mai! Meena Rice-Based Cuisine is around 30-minutes away from the Nimmanahaeminda Road. Yet it has been a hot spot since it opened about 2 years ago. The restaurant offered a lot of Thai dishes (and I love minced pork) that served with rice in five different colors (Riceberry rice in black, brown rice in brown, butterfly pea rice in blue, safflower rice in yellow, and Jasmine Rice in white). Diners could create, mix, and match their own colorful plate of rice while sitting in a hut on top of a lake.
Meena Rice-Based Cuisine: https://www.facebook.com/meena.rice.based/
Musts-see night markets in Chiang Mai
Like Bangkok, the night markets in Chiang Mai have also great local food, handicrafts, fashion, and a vibrant nightlife. If you are in Chiang Mai during the weekend – the first market that you should check out is the Sunday Market in the old city, with hundreds of stalls and hawkers set up for just one day. Chiang Mai’s markets offer more than the typical souvenir that you would find anywhere else in Thailand, the market is a stage for local artists to showcase their unique and interesting handicrafts, usually at a very valuable price. Look closely, you will probably have an amazing find.
Sunday Walking Street: This is the highlight of the city. The market is a kilometer-long stretch is situated in the heart of the city’s main tourist area from Tha Pae Gate to Ratchadamnoen Road. The road is closed to traffic from 4 pm and turned into a pedestrian area. You can basically find anything in there, from handicrafts, souvenirs, and accessories, to food vendors.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: This is one of the busiest markets not only crowded with tourists but also the locals. It opens every night from 6 pm, and the stalls are sprawling at the intersections of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khro Road.
Wualai Walking Street: The walking street opens on Saturday, and it’s actually the favorite for those in the know; because it’s not as busy and crowded as the Sunday Market, it has an interesting mix of local products and food. This is also where the Wat Sri Suphan is located within the market.
Warorot Market: It is a food market with an impressive array of fresh produce and Thai-style snacks and meals.
Ton Lamyai Market: This is a local market that specialized in… flowers. So if you are looking for an alternative market to have a stroll in the morning, this is where you should be heading to.
I have always loved going to contemporary art museums and it was exciting for me to know that there is a new contemporary art museum, Maiiam, opened in Chiang Mai. Opened in July 2016, the museum is a bit from the Chiang Mai old town but definitely worth visiting. The front of the museum is installed with shiny tiles that reflect the surrounding trees and sunlight; and though the museum is not big, it houses permanent collections of contemporary artists from Thai – including paintings, photographs, and sculptures of “The Timeless Present Moment” by Thai contemporary artist, Kamin Lertchaiprasert.
MAIIAM is a new private museum of contemporary art in Thailand initiated by Jean Michel Beurdeley and his late wife Patrsi Bunnag, together with their son Eric Bunnag Booth. The family wishes to share their private collection, built together over the last thirty years, with everyone so that people could see and experience for themselves how art can enrich their lives. The museum was built in memory of Eric Bunnang Booth’s great-great-aunt Chao Chom lam, a royal consort to King Rama V.
Bolsering Chiang Mai’s already vibrant art and cultural scene, MAIIAM aims to make the co-founders’ important collections of Thai and regional contemporary art, permanently accessible to the public. The museum mounts long-term and temporary exhibitions of visual art, design, and fashion, alongside performers, film screenings, special education programs, lectures, and workshops to engage a wide spectrum of audiences.
Check out the Piphitmaya Collection, it is seminal work from the masters of Thai contemporary art. Artists include the late Montien Boonma, Kamin Lertchaiprasert, Chatchai Puipia, Araya Rasdjarmreaensook, Nain Rawanchaikul, Natee Utarit, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Udomsak Krisanamis, Pinaree Sanpitak, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, as well as young and emerging artists of the Kingdom and the region. The Piphitmaya Collection, displayed on the museum’s upper floor gallery, is a selection guided by the emotional resonance and formal correspondences amongst the works themselves, in keeping with the sensibility of the collection as a whole.
Kamphaengkaew by Chef Tutu
There aren’t any shops around the museum, and so we had to at the museum restaurant which is a highlight of the place. The café offers an interesting menu with a number of signature dishes. One of them is stockfish with watermelon. It is royal food since Kind Rama IV. You might think it is a little bit less “extravagant” to serve stockfish for a royal dish, it is an appetizer back in the days for people dipping watermelon cubes with stockfish, sugar, and fried garlic. Surprisingly, it tasted so refreshing!